With a wicked case of writer's block and a growing sense of frustration with the music industry weighing heavily on her, Melissa Ferrick wasn't sure that she'd ever record another album. But just as the singer-songwriter was making peace with the possibility of a future that looked very different from the previous 20 years she's spent with music at the center of her world, the songs began to show up again. Slowly but surely Still Right Here, Ferrick's first studio album in five years, developed and the singer is back on the road this fall supporting it.
To celebrate the world premiere of the video for the album's title track (above), The Huffington Post caught up with Ferrick to talk about Still Right Here's optimism, living in the shadow of Melissa Etheridge and The Indigo Girls, and her policy on groupies.
Still Right Here has an incredibly optimistic feeling to it. Where was your head at when you were writing the album?
Because I hadn't been writing for about a year and a half, I was so happy to be writing again. I really thought for six months before I wrote "Headphones On" that I might not ever make another record. I thought I would be done and I was really OK with that. I had gotten the teaching job and I was sick of throwing records out against the wall on my own. I thought OK, I've had a great run as an indie songwriter and I can play around Boston if I want and I can fulfill my live musical needs that way.
Was it primarily your frustrations with the industry or were you creatively blocked, too?
There was nothing coming to me. I went through a period of time where that was depressing. I kept thinking Oh my God, I'm not writing! and I'd just go on with life and another month or two months would go by and I'd think I'm still not writing and I wouldn't say anything about it to anybody and I'd just go along my merry way. I think maybe the build up of not writing for nearly two years just kind of exploded. I think a lot of the record sounds optimistic because there are songs like "Back You Up" and "Weightless and Slow" and "Headphones On." The chorus of "Headphones On" is really optimistic -- even when things are difficult and there's nothing to report -- really that song started because there was nothing to report -- there's nothing to tell you, nothing to work out here. And then I just kept writing. I do like that I worked really hard on these songs and made sure lyrically and melodically they went somewhere. There's some sort of beginning, middle and end to them. There's another point of view in all of them. From a songwriting perspective, I'm really proud of that. Even in "Still Right Here," the guts of the song is that there's somebody who isn't sure what they're doing anymore but there's a positive twist in that it sounds strong. It isn't like "Oh, I shouldn't be here…" -- it's not a debbie downer [laughs].
The video for "Still Right Here" (above) is comprised of fan-submitted video clips. You've always had an incredibly rabid fan base. Did their support influence your decision to make another album?
I don't know if I'd say that because it was really a personal journey. But when we talked about what I wanted the video to be, we talked about people sending in footage of themselves in their favorite places or places that make them feel happy, whether it's their local bar or coffee shop or LGBT place or holding hands with their best friend or their baby. Whatever it is that grounds them and keeps them here and it's really cool because it's just so sweet. There are girls underwater in a swimming pool and girls that I taught in front of the Rocky Mountains holding a sign and a lesbian couple with their baby and a guy in his house dancing. It's all these little things that make me feel happy. Every time I play that song, when I look out over the crowd, I think it is partly about them.
The other song that makes me think that about my fans is "You Let Me Be." It feels like a thank you to the fans who allowed me the space to make a new original record and allowed me to come around to myself again and here they are still buying tickets and still buying my new record and still totally getting it. There's been no negative reaction -- nothing like "Where have you been? You haven't played Philly for three and a half years!" They're just really happy that I'm healthy and happy and making music again. It feels really good.
The press often describes you first and foremost as a lesbian singer-songwriter. Though that's an accurate description, I think in these post-Lilith Fair days there can be a pejorative connotation to being defined that way. How do you feel about being classified as part of that genre?
I react to that in two ways. One is that I feel honored to be that for people -- especially for young queer kids that really look up to me. I hear stories every night from little gay girls or little trannies that sneak out of their house and their parents don't know they're there and they're underage and they got in.
But there's also always been for me particularly a weird kind of feeling of and a struggle to be completely embraced by the lesbian community. Lesbians have had Melissa Etheridge and The Indigo Girls for so long and that age group is actually my age group -- those 40 year olds. We had -- meaning me, the 35's-and-ups -- those women for so long that I feel like in some ways I got a little bit of backlash from that. My crowds were never as big as theirs and haven't been. I never had a crossover hit -- I've never had a hit at radio. I've never been on Ellen. I've struggled up against that. So those ladies have set the bar really high. I've tried to cross into that market forever -- not by doing anything in particular but just by being myself. But sometimes I think Where are the gay people? [Laughs]
But I also think the younger generation of fans that I have -- which is probably great for me because my fans start even younger than 20 -- the 20-to-40 year olds that do come, they're also Lady Gaga fans and Beyoncé fans and Nicki Minaj fans. I'm also rockier than the Indigo Girls and Melissa Etheridge are. So I think I hit a different market and that's why I don't feel negatively -- I love it. I'm out. And I'm outspoken about it to an extent. But I certainly don't exclude any particular person from my live shows or my world. Everyone knows that. I did publicly come out in 1995 because it was the thing to do and it was fashionable and I was on a big label and I got some press about it but when that happened it just went under the radar because everyone was like "Whatever, everyone's coming out. What's the big deal? Another lesbian with a guitar." It's been over 15 years, so it's almost passé and I love that. I love that my sexual orientation isn't the focus of my art. I am known as a queer artist and I'm proud of that. I wouldn't want to be walking around right now with this record about to come out wondering if people were going to ask me if I was gay and how I would respond to that.
You've been in the industry for almost 20 years. What's changed the most for you?
I'm not hanging on the hopes of a hit. Really physically inside my body I'm not wondering if maybe I'm going to have a song that "makes it." It was almost 20 years ago that I opened for Morrissey -- I was 19. My song "Everything I Need" almost crossed over and became a really big hit at radio and then that didn't work and then I wrote "Drive" and suddenly I blinked and it was the year 2000. I got in a car with Brian, my old drummer, and my girlfriend at the time and my tour manager and I went on the road and literally didn't come off for a solid five years of playing 200 shows a year.
That really took me away from things that I've now discovered are so important like family and friends and being happy and not just exhausting myself in one area. Now I feel a lot better at balancing my life and loving the fact that I'm really happy with where I am and where I live and I'm happy in my house and having my parents up the street. The simple things mean so much more to me. I think everyone comes to realize that when they turn 40.
I also have such an overwhelming respect for the people that do what I do and people who work in this industry. It's gotten so much smaller and so much harder to make a living -- whether you work at record label or you're a musician -- it's become a camp. Every time I go somewhere it's a sense of home.
To have people that are working as the waitstaff on the night of your show sign up on your mailing list -- that's the biggest compliment. When the bartender says, "I've never heard you before and you were fricking amazing" -- those are the compliments that I now really appreciate. When I started -- even the first eight years of working -- I didn't understand or probably even hear when people said that to me. I didn't understand on a cellular level how important that is or how far that can take you. I'm happy to be happy about understanding that.
Speaking of being on the road, it's no secret you're quite a hit with the ladies. What is your policy on groupies? Fair game or off-limits?
[Laughs] Groupies are off-limits. Outside of platonic flirting, I don't sleep with fans on the road. I have -- I won't say that I haven't -- but I try not to. I really enjoy flirting -- there's no doubt about it. But I no longer cross the line of taking people back to the hotel.
For more information about Melissa Ferrick, including upcoming tour dates, visit her official website.